We’re down to four teams left in the playoffs, and that list feels like it’s about to get even shorter. Soon, we’ll have our final two, and the odds are that your team is probably long gone. Maybe they were never around to start with.
But maybe a few of their former players are. That’s always a bittersweet storyline for a hockey fan. Assuming the player left on good terms, you still have some loyalty and might want to see them do well. But watching a player win a Cup somewhere else when they couldn’t do it for your favorite team isn’t exactly ideal. You’re happy for them. You just can’t help but think of what might have been.
Today, let’s celebrate those guys with a simple question: Which team can build the best six-man roster out of guys who won the Stanley Cup somewhere else?
I like this topic because it feels like one of those questions that just about every fan base probably thinks they’ll do well in because we all think this happens to our team more than most. We’ll see about that. But first, a few ground rules:
- We’re looking for three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie, without worrying about position beyond that.
- We’re looking for players who had an impact with a team, then left and won their first Stanley Cup somewhere else. If they won a Cup with your team first and then won another somewhere else, that obviously doesn’t count. Neither do guys who already had a ring before they arrived on your team.
- You get credit for whatever the player did with your team. So the longer they stuck around, and the higher their peak when they were there, the better. A big-name superstar won’t help you much if they only had a brief cameo with your team.
- Finally, we’re only looking at Cups won as a player — going somewhere else and winning as a scout or a coach or whatever doesn’t count.
As always, I’ll aim to do 10 teams or so and then turn it over to you in the comments to add any additional contenders.
It should go without saying that some teams will make for better options here than others. Teams that have been around longer have more runway to work with, and teams that go long stretches without Cups will also have a big advantage.
Wait, did I just accidentally design a roster-building game where the Maple Leafs are the team to beat? I might have, so let’s start with them…
Toronto Maple Leafs
They haven’t won any Cups since 1967. Did you know that? It doesn’t get brought up all that often.
Forwards: Lanny McDonald, Phil Kessel, Vincent Damphousse
Defensemen: Tomas Kaberle, Carl Gunnarsson
Goalie: Bernie Parent
The Maple Leafs start us off with a strong team, although maybe not quite as strong as you would have thought. Their Original Six era stars all won Cups in Toronto, and many of the biggest names since never won at all, which takes out guys like Mats Sundin, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming and Wendel Clark.
Still, we’ve got some strong talent to work with, starting with Hall of Famer McDonald, who had to wait until his final year in Calgary to write an OGWAC redemption story. Kessel went straight from Toronto to back-to-back Cups, and Tomas Kaberle only took a few months to get a ring after the Leafs sent him to Boston. I gave the third forward spot to the criminally underrated Damphousse, although we could have also gone with Tyler Bozak, Gary Leeman or Eddie Olczyk, and Nazem Kadri might lay claim to the job in a few weeks.
The weakness here is the second blue line spot, and our goalie isn’t as impressive as it seems since we’re only getting two seasons of Parent before he headed back to Philadelphia to become a superstar. All in all, the Leafs aren’t bad, but they’re certainly beatable. As always.
Let’s try another Original Six team …
We don’t have any recent names because they foolishly won multiple Cups in the last decade, but a 49-year drought should give us something to work with.
Forwards: Denis Savard, Steve Larmer, Phil Esposito
Defensemen: Allan Stanley, Cy Wentworth
Goalie: Eddie Belfour
We get off to a good start up front with two stars from the 1980s, with Savard getting his Cup in Montreal in 1993 and Larmer following the next year in New York. We’re only getting Esposito’s first four seasons, though, so it’s just the 60-point kid and not the 70-goal monster.
The blue line isn’t good; remember, Chris Chelios had a Cup from Montreal before he arrived, so him getting another in Detroit after he leaves doesn’t help us. Doug Wilson never won a Cup, and neither did long-time Hawks like Bob Murray or Keith Magnuson, so we’re scrambling to fill the defense slots (and not getting anything close to Stanley’s best years). But we’ve very strong in net thanks to Belfour’s Cup in Dallas, so it balances out into a very solid entry.
We’ll come back to the Original Six, but let’s try some of the expansion-era teams.
We’re closing in on five decades without a Cup, so we should have plenty to work with.
Forwards: Rick Tocchet, Rod Brind’Amour, Jeff Carter
Defensemen: Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn
Goalie: Ken Wregget
The goalie spot is weird here. As best I can tell, of the 27 goalies who’ve ever played even 40 games for the Flyers, only three ever won Cups: Bernie Parent and Wayne Stephenson, who were the Flyers’ duo for the mid-70s, and Wregget, who went on to Pittsburgh and pretty much gets this job by default.
The rest of the roster is solid, even though Claude Giroux couldn’t punch his ticket this year. We’ve got lots of talent up front and could also swap in Mike Richards or Simon Gagne thanks to the Kings, or Brayden Schenn from the Blues. The blue line doesn’t have quite the star power, but it’s filled with OGWAC-y goodness, so we’ll take it. This is a solid squad.
Let’s try another team from the 1967 expansion …
St. Louis Blues
Another team that went through a long drought, and this one will have a few legitimate superstars.
Forwards: Brett Hull, Doug Gilmour, T.J. Oshie
Defensemen: Chris Pronger, Rob Ramage
Goalie: Rick Wamsley
Hull and Pronger give us the best one-two punch we’ve seen so far, with both guys winning Hart Trophies and spending a big chunk of their Blues careers in the best-in-the-world conversation at their position. The depth around them is very good, so much so that we’re not even using short stints from Brendan Shanahan or Scott Stevens.
The weakness is in goal, where the Blues like to bring in guys after they’ve won Cups. Wamsley’s fine, although this would have looked better if Curtis Joseph or Mike Liut had gone on to win a Cup. If the Lightning make it a threepeat then we’ll see if Brian Elliott might take this spot. For now, Wamsley rounds out a team I like a lot.
One more 1967 expansion cousin…
Los Angeles Kings
Before they won Cups in 2012 and 2014, they were another long-drought team.
Forwards: Luc Robitaille, Butch Goring, Bill Flett
Defensemen: Rob Blake, Larry Murphy
Goalie: Glenn Healey
The goaltending kills us again, as Jonathan Quick obviously can’t help, Rogie Vachon and Rollie Melanson already had Cups before arriving in L.A. and most of the other big names never won one. Healey was always dependable, but only had a few years as a King, so we’re weak here.
Beyond that, though, I like this squad. We’ve got Hall-of-Famers in Kings’ legends Robitaille and Blake (plus a few early years of Murphy), and Goring is one of the classic guys that got away who fits the vibe we’re going for.
We’ll continue our march through expansion history with a stop in 1970 …
I’m not sure how they’ll do here, but watch out for them in next week’s piece, “guys who went on to actually make the playoffs with other teams.”
Forwards: Alexander Mogilny, Dave Andreychuk, Ryan O’Reilly
Defensemen: Brian Campbell, Richard Smehlik
Goalie: Dominik Hasek
Hoo boy. This might be our best team yet, right?
Hasek is obviously the key. We can argue over whether he’s the greatest goalie of the post-expansion era (he is), but he’s easily the best who qualifies for these rosters. Thank you, Brett Hull’s skate in the crease. And we have a Vezina-winning Tom Barrasso as our backup.
Other than that, we’ve got a 600-goal Hall of Famer in Andreychuk, who finally got his Cup with the 2004 Lightning, plus another guy who absolutely should be in the HHOF in Mogilny (including his 76-goal peak), and O’Reilly’s strong two-way game.
On the blue line, Campbell was a legitimate star, and Smehlik was very good in Buffalo for a long time before sneaking onto the 2003 Devils in his final season. With guys like Uwe Krupp and Miroslav Satan available as depth, I’m calling this the best team we’ve seen so far.
Let’s keep going…
They arrived in the NHL in 1974 and started getting NHL-caliber players sometime around 1982.
Forwards: Bob Carpenter, Ryan Walter, Nick Kypreos
Defensemen: Scott Stevens, Sergei Gonchar
Goalie: Cristobel Huet
The Caps are a deeply frustrating team for this exercise because their three best options are all defensemen: Stevens, Gonchar and Larry Murphy. We’ll see if we can trade Murphy for a goalie since we barely have one; Huet played just one partial season in Washington before heading to Chicago.
Up front, the best players in Capitals’ history either won a Cup there in 2018 or never won one at all (including Peter Bondra, Dale Hunter, Dennis Maruk and Mike Gartner). We can find a few decent 1980s names. Otherwise, this team is a blue line and not much else. And in this case, one out of three is pretty bad.
We’re clearly getting worse as we go further along the timeline, and logic tells us that it should be hard to find all that much among the teams that arrived after the WHA expansion, but it’s always fun to try. Let’s dip into one recent franchise to see if we can make a dent before we go back to the Original Six to close it out …
Star players always seem to want out, but do they land in the right place to get a ring?
Forwards: Marian Hossa, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Stan Neckar
Goalie: Ray Emery
Jason Spezza would have helped here, but this team still gets off to a great start with Chara and Hossa. We run out of steam after that, although check back in a few weeks and see if we can add Mika Zibanejad to the squad.
That’s about as far as we can go into modern times, as it gets amusingly difficult to fill out a roster for the more recent teams. (Fun fact: As best I can tell, the only goalie in Wild history to ever win a Cup anywhere is Marc-Andre Fleury.) That’s fine because we’re hitting the homestretch, so it’s time to head back to the big guns of the Original Six.
We won’t bother with the Canadiens, because up until 1993 they won often enough that their team would stink. The Red Wings are a better option, and they do get off to a strong start with Glenn Hall in goal. But they don’t make as much hay out of their 40-plus year drought as you might expect thanks to the utter writeoff of the Darkness with Harkness era; if any of you Detroit fans want to take a swing at building something around Petr Klima and Joe Murphy, be my guest, but I was coming up empty.
Instead, we’ll wrap up with two teams …
With just one solitary Cup since 1940 (for now), this should be about as fertile ground as we can find.
Forwards: Andy Bathgate, Tomas Sandström, Tony Leswick
Defensemen: Ryan McDonagh, Jack Evans
Goalie: Gump Worsley
This team is… fine? It’s good. It’s just not as good as I was thinking the Rangers would be able to put together. Worsley is a great start in goal, especially since we get a full decade of his work before he heads off to win four Cups in Montreal. But the skaters are just OK, in part because the Rangers had fewer true superstars than any other Original Six team, and partly because the ones they did have tended to stick around for their whole careers. So we end up with a mix of old-timers you may not know and borderline stars from the modern era. New York turns out to be a team where winners go to end their careers, not to start them.
Huh. The Rangers were a bit of a dud. Let’s see if the same is true of our last team, one you might have wondered about this whole time…
Did they ever have a guy go win a Cup somewhere else? That seems to ring a bell.
Forwards: Craig MacTavish, Geoff Courtnall, Mike Krushelnyski
Defensemen: Ray Bourque, Glen Wesley
Goalie: Bill Ranford
The Bruins get off to a great start with Bourque, the best OGWAC story of all time, and quite possibly the second-best defenseman who ever lived. We get 21 years of service from him, making him arguably the single best player on any roster we’ve seen, with Hasek as the only other guy in the ballpark. Wesley’s seven years in Boston are more than adequate for our second slot.
Up front, we need to drill down on that gap between 1972 and 2011, which in theory should give us more than enough to work with. We don’t find much at all, though, as Joe Thornton lets the Bruins down once again. Instead, it’s three recognizable names who didn’t do all that much in Boston before going on to win Cups in Edmonton.
Ken Dryden never played for the Bruins so he can’t help us in goal, but we at least have a solid option in another Oiler, Bill Ranford. He should probably get some bonus points because his Cup win in 1990 not only came against the Bruins but also saw him win the Conn Smythe.
This is a really good team. But is it good enough to beat Hasek and the Sabres for the title? I don’t think it is. Man, it’s Ray Bourque trying to carry this Boston team without enough talent around him to pull it off. Sounds familiar.
Now it’s over to you. If you’ve got a roster you want to make, a name you think I’ve missed somewhere, or just a thought on which of these teams you’d take over Buffalo, let me know in the comments.
(Top photo of Raymond Bourque and Joe Sakic: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)